Monday, March 29, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Only Thing That Counts

I flipped open my Bible to Galatians yesterday, and began reading. I stumbled upon a verse that I had ironically enough already underlined, yet had no recollection of ever seeing before. Galatians 5:6 says, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." It blew my mind. The only thing that counts?

This verse just may summarize my calling and life goal :) Paul doesn't say that the only thing that counts is love. He also doesn't say that faith is all that counts. It is the two working together - faith spurring love to be an action, an expression, of the love God has placed in our hearts. And that love doesn't come from just anywhere. The love that we are to show comes from a strong faith in our own hearts: faith in a God of love. The two, faith and love, are intricately connected and undoubtedly intertwined. Hebrews says that faith is "being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see." That hope and certainty should be of a loving God and of a world that operates as he originally intended it... so with that faith, we can use our own love to begin to work towards that vision.

Sometimes terms like "faith" and "hope" and "love" seem too abstract for me to put into practice in my own life. I can be initially attracted to such romantic terms, and even strive towards an indistinct end goal of faith or hope or love. But that is why I'm loving God's word more and more every day. As I seek to have Him guide my life every day, I realize that hidden away in His book are pretty tangible and practical applications for faith and hope and love to occur in our own daily lives. Faith is hope and certainty in the God of love who we can't quite see. And that faith will be expressed through love. God himself IS love. If we know God, and know His love, then our faith in Him will only be able to produce an outpouring of love as a result. And that's all that counts.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Working with the "Least of These"

The first half of last week we learned about working with kids with behavioral disorders and how to discipline difficult children. Michelle Grimes, sister to my staff Rachel, is an inner-city elementary school teacher from Kansas. I gained more insight into my own personality and reactions to authority, as well as effective methods of handling kids who cause trouble. I have a much better understanding of why some children act out the way they do, and how to handle them.

The other half of this past week’s learning was tangible and hands-on, out of the classroom and on the field! Wednesday was a workday around base, so I got to wash every dish in YWAM San Jose’s kitchen. Despite my initial aversion to time-consuming and menial tasks, I always find them somewhat humbling and good for my character. Dishes, you can’t defeat me.

Thursday and Friday were spent at a Christian special-needs center that teaches life skills and gives therapy to children with down syndrome, mental retardation, autism and cerebral palsy. Leslie’s teaching the previous week about working with special needs children came to life as I interacted with and saw firsthand the delicacy and value of kids with disabilities.

I had the absolute pleasure of eating, playing with and teaching three precious young boys who all had varying degrees of autism. Two of the three were nonverbal, and the third mostly communicated with laughter and a few indistinguishable Spanish words. However, the beauty of these boys is that they explored and discovered the world in ways that I have never experienced. Pablo learned through taste. He put everything in his mouth and learned through what he tasted. Alexis, the boy that I had a special connection with, related to the world through his sense of smell. He would periodically lean over and sniff me, smell all of his food before he ate it, and habitually make sure his hands smelled the way they did 5 minutes ago. I must have smelled alright to him, because we became fast friends; he never left my side. Omar had a wonderful sense of humor and mostly enjoyed laughing at Alexis and Pablo, which kept the mood light and a smile on everyone’s face.

The highlight of my time with these boys was music therapy. We played instruments with them, which they all thoroughly enjoyed. We stomped to the beat of the music and let them feel the vibrations on their seats. Then they each took turns laying on a giant exercise ball and rolling around to the sounds of relaxing music. It was so amazing to see children immersed in music using their other senses as well. Music class wasn’t just their routine; it was a complete mind and body engagement. Their demeanors totally changed after music class, and it was encouraging seeing something that I am so passionate about used to soothe and comfort children who have such a difficult time functioning in this crazy world of ours.

I didn’t speak very much Spanish with the kids. They couldn’t really communicate back. And yet simple activities like washing our hands or going for a walk made these boys smile and laugh, feel loved, and enjoy life. I had much time to pray and think while working with them, and realized what a treasure they were. They laugh unashamedly. They love without conditions. They act exactly how they feel – no mind games or manipulation are present. They are the very essence of purity and innocence. And yet they are the lowest of the low. If children are the most overlooked, forgotten, abused and degraded in this world, how much more are disabled children? Have we, as Christians and as a society, completely missed it? Did Jesus not make it clear that the least of these are actually the greatest in His Kingdom? It was an honor to wash the faces of these children who couldn’t do it themselves. It was my pleasure to hold their hands and help them with nearly every task they completed throughout the day. They are not the least; they are the greatest. And it was humbling to spend those two days with them, seeing God’s fingerprint on their faces and getting to enjoy them in their own unique beauty and brilliance.

Thursday night, I was in charge of running a children’s program for the foster kids at Casa Viva, the organization we’ve been partnering with here. We had around 20 children and played games, had a Bible lesson, enjoyed worship and drew pictures while their foster parents had a meeting. It was great to catch up and play with all the kids we’ve been working with these last three months. I miss them when I don’t see them for too long, and I think they feel the same way. Friday night we returned to Santa Ana for our second-to-last program there. It’s getting harder and harder to picture my Friday nights without these children whom I have grown to love. I am hoping next week won’t be the last time I ever see them.

Every day I’m getting more excited for outreach in Jaco… please be praying for me and my team as we prepare to move there and start ministry! I know God wants to do big things in the hearts and lives of the people there, but we will need to rely entirely on His direction and strength. J

As some of you may know, I am returning home for one week before we start outreach. I couldn’t be more excited. There is no greater gift than to get to see and spend time with loved ones back home. The very comfort of home is calling my name, so I’ll be answering that call over Easter for six precious days of family, friends, food and rest. I’m thanking God daily for that blessing!

Haitian Missionaries' Advisor Arrested for Trafficking Charges

The story of the Idaho missionaries getting arrested in Haiti for illegally transporting orphans to the Dominican Republic takes a really weird turn as their legal advisor, Jorge Torres-Puello, has been arrested for trafficking and is wanted in multiple countries on a variety of ridiculous charges. He was accused of trafficking, as well as being connected to a large drug and sexual exploitation ring in Latin America. He and his wife have also been rumored to have run a brothel out of their house. Basically, he's pretty deep into criminal activity, and it's very interesting that he is connected to the Idaho church group...
Please pray...
-That proper actions are taken to investigate and punish, if necessary, Torres-Puello for his crimes.
-That other traffickers are discovered and stopped.
-That insight and truth is found in the case of the Idaho missionaries and that they can be dealt with in a just way.
-As always, for the victims of trafficking.


Voice for the Voiceless is an organization seeking to advocate for and give voices to the oppressed and ignored of this world. Based out of South Africa, they use relationship building, counseling, photography and awareness to seek justice and restoration of those in the world without a voice for themselves.


PLAN International is a children's development organization that is working in nearly 50 countries to promote children's rights and eradicate poverty in their lives. They enable and advocate for children around the world in order to transform communities and help them to reach their full potential. They work in a variety of areas - education, health care, community development, emergency relief, AIDS education, etc. - really awesome :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Where I Belong

Every day I’m learning more… loving God way more… getting more hope and vision for the future… missing home a little more, but also growing in that separation. The time here is hard but good, tiring but fun, a little crazy but totally worthwhile. Sometimes I wonder why I’m living in a strange warehouse with mice and cockroaches when I could be sleeping in a huge bed in my own room. I wonder why I eat rice and beans every day when there are pizza and burgers in Indiana. I wonder why I have to ride a bus downtown to make friends when the people I love most in the world are all back home. I wonder why I am paying money to use the Internet and call home when talking in person to those same people is free. I can’t walk alone at night, drive anywhere or buy toiletries for a reasonable price. These aren’t complaints – just observations I’ve been making lately. I never realize how much comfort and ease there is at home until I’m gone. Little things like US Dollars or the English language or watching news updates about Indianapolis are strangely missed here. And yet I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Despite all my whining about paying to be online or not being able to see the Dave Matthews concert this summer (which is a huge deal, by the way J), I am in love with Costa Rica and with ministry and with the people here and with the people I live and serve alongside. It’s not really an issue of happiness, but more of fulfillment and joy. I know that I belong here: on the mission field… and that’s something I feel fortunate to have found so early in life.

That security in knowing I belong on the mission field is encouraging as I figure out my next steps. As more long-term goals and visions are beginning to form, I am seeing more and more a need for further training and education in the areas in which I want to work. In the past, my impatience and eagerness to be on the mission field have pushed university to the back burner, but this past week’s teaching really encouraged me to take a second look at education. Phil, our speaker for part of last week, works with a ministry that is placing orphans in loving and supportive homes so that children can finally receive the care that they deserve and need. He and I spoke about the need for social workers to pioneer foster care in Latin America, and the value in professional education in areas of counseling and psychology. That was exciting for me – those are the areas I’d like to study, and it’s encouraging to know that there is a huge need that those qualifications can fulfill. On that note, I’ve been further investigating university for my near future!

The other part of last week’s class was taught by Leslie Freeman. We enjoyed classes outside, amidst sun and plants and a breeze. Leslie shared with us about working with children with special needs. We discussed different learning and behavioral disorders and how to recognize and accommodate each. Her creative teaching style and passion made for a really meaningful two days. I learned that about 1 in 10 children have a disability, so I will have to be well prepared to encounter and deal with different disabilities when working with kids.

Local outreach on Friday was another awesome time with the Santa Ana kids… I’m becoming more and more attached to all of them, and am really dreading saying goodbye. One of the most incredible observations I’ve made with them is the way older sisters diligently and selflessly care for their younger siblings. In this culture, it seems that the oldest sibling assumes the role of mother for the other kids. There are eleven-year-old girls walking around with babies on their hips, looking more like young woman than the little girls they are. As an older sister myself, I know that I never had that much responsibility with my younger brother. I am amazed at the family commitment and bond that these older sisters seem to share with their brothers and sisters. It’s really been a good lesson to me in family and care and responsibility. I’m sure these older sisters would much prefer to be playing with their friends and just enjoying childhood – and yet they are already at a point in life where they must sacrifice their own desires for the well being of their family. It is simultaneously encouraging and sad for me to see.

Elderly Man Arrested For Striking Children

So this article isn't really a social justice or human rights issue... it's more of just a strange, twisted article about an old man who enjoys hitting children in stores - because they're defenseless and he enjoys getting away with it. Initially, I kind of laughed, to be honest. What kind of crazy old man hangs out at Walmart and hits kids in the head for the fun of it? But the article mentions that he's manic depressive and has mental health issues. It made me think... this one weird old man was caught, but how many other mentally ill and unstable adults are out there abusing kids? There are tons of them. So please just take a second and pray about children who are abused, manipulated, exploited, and hurt by the adults in their lives - whether its their own parents, or a crazy old man in Walmart.

War Child International

War Child is an international organization that seeks to bring about peace and alleviate suffering among communities and nations that are victims of war. Through relief work, the bringing of material aid into war zones, rehabilitating children into their homes post-war, and helping children to heal, War Child International is showing God's love to those whose lives have been turned upside down by war.

SPEAK Network

SPEAK networks youth and students around the world to raise up a generation of young people who are passionate about seeking justice! SPEAK believes in the value of youth campaigning and speaking out on behalf of those who are suffering injustice, and is working to bring about transformation and see God's Kingdom established on Earth. It's really awesome to see an organization with such faith that young people have power to change the world!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Father Heart of God

God’s been revealing Himself to me in tiny yet amazing ways. My daily prayer is to have God show me His love in a new and creative way… and He has been faithful in answering that prayer. Sometimes my heart is captivated by the beauty of God’s creations: the trees, flowers, oceans and sunsets I get to see here. Other times, I know God cares about me by the way He has surrounded me with loving and supportive people in my life. One particular morning during my quiet time, I watched a father help his toddler walk around outside. The baby couldn’t walk on her own, but the father crouched down and held both her hands and whispered in her ear and helped her stumble around the yard. I don’t know this man well, and he probably wondered why I stared at him for so long… but in that moment, I felt God was clearly illustrating His nature as a protective, loving and encouraging Father. I am still a baby who needs God holding me by both my hands as I toddle around this world. I need God whispering His promises in my ears as I try to get my footing and figure out how to do this thing called life. I need to know that even if I start to fall, God has me by the hands and won’t let ever let me fall to the point of being truly hurt. He is my loving protector, encourager and ever-faithful Father.

Monday, March 8, 2010

As I spoke with my Dad over Skype last week, he asked me if I was writing down any record of all the adventures and exciting things that I had been communicating to him every week. I told him I had a blog… his response? “Yeah, but that’s pretty formal…” Ha! I’m not a formal kind of person. I’d prefer for my writing to reflect who I am, and so my hope for this blog is that it would be a more intimate and personal reflection of what God is doing in my life and all the adventures He has taken me on since arriving in Costa Rica 2 months ago. Perhaps my previous entries have been a little more like mini-devotions or philosophical rants or obligatory reports of what’s been going on here. That shouldn’t be the point. I hope that my passion is communicated through these posts… that my heart for missions and the people here would be understood. I also hope to have a record of all the little ways in which God has shown me His beauty, humor and loving nature during this time!

That being said… last week was awesome blossom, extra awesome J A guy named Mati from Samoa works in Brazil with street kids. He’s the YWAM base leader there, and came to hang out with us for the week and share about working with street children. His dedication to serving street children and wisdom in working in tough situations was incredibly inspiring. The police in Brazil are known to be corrupt as well as highly violent and intolerant of street kids. At one point, Mati was arrested on false charges, severely beaten by the police of Brazil, and narrowly escaped being killed by the very authority that were supposed to enforce order and justice. After that experience, many asked him if he would be returning home. But Mati stayed in Brazil and has been there for over 20 years, faithfully serving God by loving, mentoring, housing, educating and serving the street children in Recife, Brazil. His story really affected me. For the most part, it is easy for me to be overseas… in Costa Rica, I feel pretty safe. I know not to walk alone after dark and to always be aware of my surroundings, but I have never had any problems in my time abroad. However… if I had been living and serving a community, and then endured horrendous physical, emotional and verbal abuse at the hands of the local authority, I don’t know how much longer I would stay there. I’m afraid that my fear of man might take over or that I would be so bitter about the injustice I endured to continue on in that place. But Mati’s call to Brazil and confidence in God’s power and overriding justice sustained him and he continued to serve street children of Brazil with love and dedication. That faith is so admirable and inspiring to me.

I’m only going to be living in San Jose for four more weeks… I can’t believe how fast time has flown! I am just now becoming truly familiar and comfortable in this place where I live. I am on a first-name basis with the women across the street who sell an assortment of fried treats and candy… I’ll attribute that to my conversational efforts and relationship skills, not the amount of empanadas and lollipops I’ve bought in the last 2 months J The woman that I met on the bus, Amparito, is becoming more and more of my Costa Rican mother here. With smoothies and cookies, my broken Spanish and a lot of laughs, our relationship is really growing. I wish I could pack her up and bring her home with me! It is such a blessing to have met a stranger on the bus, have her welcome me into her home, and then have her take care of me during my time here. She is hilariously adamant about me learning Spanish, and I don’t mind the help! I’m finally figuring out my way around downtown, and love going there to meet people. I could see myself living in this area for a much longer time, yet I will be moving on in just four weeks. I hope I can get permanently established doing ministry someplace in the near future… short-term relationships and frequent change just aren’t my preference.

Speaking of which… I have to say good-bye to all the children in Santa Ana soon! Every week during the children’s program we run, I develop more and more love and affection for the kids there. We are all learning each others’ names and getting to know each other better. The only sad part is that in just four weeks I will no longer be working with them. I have mixed feelings on coming into the lives of children for such short amounts of time – on the one hand, I am getting good experience working with kids and love meeting new little ones as often as I can. But on the other hand, I don’t know how healthy it is for children to begin forming relationships with mentors and then suddenly have that relationship broken off and discontinued. I’ve loved my time in Santa Ana; I just wish it was lasting longer, and that the kids could have more consistency in the relationships we form with them.

Shooting in Dallas, TX Office Building

A gunman entered an office building in Texas this morning and killed himself after shooting the owners of Smith Financial Group - a father and son. Authorities believe he was targeting these two men. Please be praying for the victims' families, as they lost two loved ones in this tragedy. Pray for the members of the office, who witnessed a horrendous crime and will have to cope with all that they saw and will now have to deal with at work. Keep the gunman's family in your prayers - that they would be able to cope and heal from the loss of their loved one, as well as work out the implications of his actions in their community and relationships with the victims' families. This is a real tragedy, and one that will take a lot of time and prayer to begin to heal from.

The MST Project

I was pretty excited to learn a little about this project going on in the Red Light District of Thailand and some other locations... the MST (Male Sex Tourism) Project aims to minister to the men who visit the Red Light District. They believe that God wants to reach and restore all people, and so they reach out to the men there through conversations about why they're there and touch on topics of faith and such... it seems like a really cool organization that is ministering to the often forgotten side of sex tourism. I pray they reach people and can change the hearts of the men they encounter!

Kiva - Loans that Save Lives

Kiva is an incredibly innovative organization that networks people around the world to unite lenders with entrepreneurs to help alleviate global poverty. The concept is that a lender loans a small investment to an entrepreneur who has the ability and willpower, but lacks the resources or finances to get his business off the ground. As the business generates money, the loan is re-paid, and a relationship is formed - facilitating global support, encouragement and generosity to better the world. REALLY awesome.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Preparing for Outreach...

I was totally inspired by the teaching and training we received this last week! Dave Swan is a British missionary who works with YWAM in South Africa. He and his wife train and help implement new ministries and projects being started around the world. Dave is highly experienced and successful at project planning and at helping groups put into action their dreams and desires. Dave does a good job of asking the hard questions that a lot of people overlook in their zeal of starting a project. With grounded questions, realistic expectations and patient encouragement, Dave helped our class brainstorm and plan our own ministry projects. Four other students and I – those of us who will be doing outreach in Jaco – spent a good part of the week planning a project to carry out during our outreach. Dave then helped us revise our plan over and over again until it seemed plausible. I’ll admit that at times I was frustrated to keep writing and re-writing our proposal, but in the process I actually learned so much about pioneering ministries and how to go about it! The value of a plan in writing was something I really took out of this week. Most new ministries fail within the first two years due to poor planning. Passion alone will not sustain a ministry or organization. God gave us brains for a reason, and I am really learning that He wants us to use those to strategically develop plans for His Kingdom – not just go out and expect to survive on our own zeal and excitement. As someone who is an optimisitc dreamer, Dave’s wisdom really gave me a good basis for ministry planning. The practical tools of writing proposals, gathering resources, communicating a mission statement, creating goals and setting timelines were so great to learn about. I feel that our group is drastically more prepared to arrive in Jaco and begin lasting and sustainable ministry there.

Before I decided to stay in Costa Rica for the next 6 months and do outreach in Jaco, I was pretty sad at the prospect of leaving this country. I am really falling in love with the people, culture, language and land! I’ve found music to be a huge blessing in relationship building and ministry here. I never would have guessed a year ago when I bought my ukulele in the mountains of Hawaii that I would be using it to meet Costa Ricans on the streets later… But God has been showing me that He works in EVERY area of my life, and never to limit Him. So a few of us have been heading downtown about once a week to play music on the streets. The results have been phenomenal. The combination of white skin, English songs and a strange tiny instrument really draws people in and as a result, I have made a lot of new friends! This past week, right as we started playing and singing, a guy came up with a guitar on his back. I asked him to join us, and we played together for over an hour. His name was Sandra, and he was a Nicaraguan immigrant with colorful vocabulary and a passion for alcohol and tobacco. The cool part is that as we played, he ended up joining us in worship! Our brief time together really meant a lot to the both of us. There is just something about playing music with others, let alone worship, that is a special and unique experience… I completely loved every second of sharing that gift with Sandra and the others downtown.

This weekend I traveled to Jaco with some others to begin to investigate the town some more, observe the nightlife and network with local churches and individuals doing ministry down there. It was encouraging to see a church body there passionate and alive for Jesus, but on the flip side was the entirely disgusting and discouraging nightlife that I am moving to Jaco to work in. As I’ve previously mentioned, Jaco is known for its beaches, drugs and sex. The beaches I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying… the drugs I have had to frequently turn down, and the sex I finally caught a glimpse of on Friday night. There are a couple known restaurants and bars in Jaco where prostitution is very heavy, and even a restaurant with a brothel above it. It broke my heart to see large groups of white men flocking the streets of Jaco, intoxicated and moving from bar to bar in search of prostitutes. Outside of one bar, every taxi driver in town was waiting to escort men who leave the bar with a prostitute on their arm. I cannot believe that these men – large groups of men of ALL ages – spend their time and money drinking and buying sex. I also couldn’t help but think that these men probably have wives, children, respectable jobs or even church communities back home. What kind of person comes all the way to Costa Rica to do these things? Do they realize the implications of their actions? Do they have any idea what sort of damage is being done to the girls every time they are bought, used and abused? It’s an emotionally daunting and exhausting situation, and I am praying hard for God’s grace in this future ministry. Please be praying with me for our team’s hearts towards these men who are broken and in need of love themselves. Please pray that the women would find hope and worth and know that they were made in the image of God and that it was never their heavenly Father’s intentions for them to be treated this way. I pray that our team can offer some truth and hope into the lives of the women working in Jaco.


California Teen Missing, Sex Offender Arrested

A 17-year-old California girl, Chelsea King, has gone missing... she was last seen on Thursday but has not yet been found. Her family is hoping to find her alive, yet a sex offender has been arrested on suspicion of rape and murder.

Please pray...

-That Chelsea is found alive and well.

-That Chelsea's family can find peace and comfort during this traumatic time.

-For all children who have gone missing around the world - for their fate, and for their families left behind.

-For the heart and mind of the arrested sex offender, John - that he would be changed and healed and he could find forgiveness for his past.


Invisible Children

Invisible Children is an awesome organization that is using film and media to spread global awareness about Africa's longest-running war in Northern Uganda. Through the support and interest they've raised in the issue, they've been able to build schools, help house, provide relief to and raise awareness for the countless Africans affected by the devastating war. Check out their website to find out more or how you can help...

The Micah Challenge

The Micah Challenge is a campaign started by Christians to hold world governments accountable to their Millennium Development Goal to halve world hunger by 2015. Their goal is to be a voice for those in poverty and hunger, and to spur governments to action on this goal. They believe it's the responsibility of the Church to advocate and seek justice for those who are unable to themselves. It's really cool to see an organization working so closely with the government to hold them accountable for their goals... I'm so happy to see the Church standing up to governments around the world and demanding the action they promised!